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By Jonathan Howe

For the past three years, podcasts have exploded in popularity. We’ve seen tremendous growth with Rainer on Leadership, and barely a week goes by where I don’t hear about someone else launching a podcast.

I’ve written several posts here about how podcasts can be successful, and have heard from many of you about your podcast plans for the future. While it can be as simple as “record and distribute,” creating a podcast and podcasting will take a great amount of work and forethought.

Generating the idea is critical. But the most important aspect of podcasting is landing on the right format for your show.

The format of a show can make or break your content. Even if you have great content, a poor choice of format can turn off listeners and frustrate you as the creator. The difficult part of choosing a format, however, is matching your content with your intended audience.

So once you have your idea and intended audience nailed down, make the choice from among these five major styles and formats of podcasts:

  1. Monologue– Many first time podcasters start here, and it becomes the reason their podcasts fail. Unless you have a highly engaging personality with loads of interesting content, this format can bore listeners and your podcast will crash before it even gets going. I would only recommend a monologue format for those who are doing podcasts focused on dispensing loads of technical facts or for podcasters with extremely engaging personalities. If you want to do monologue commentary on sports, cultural event, politics, or entertainment, you need a unique view and a very engaging personality. Otherwise, move on to another format.
  2. Conversational– This is likely the most natural format for many podcasts. Unfortunately, it’s also more difficult because of logistics. When you start adding people, you start adding microphones and technology. That can mean two things: more money and more frustration with tech issues. However, once you have your process figured out, the benefits can be great. This format of podcast offers a variety of viewpoints from two or more individuals and typically allows each to share their views and comment on the other contributors’ views. My podcast, SBC This Week, and the podcast are examples of this format.
  3. Host & Star– This format mixes the monologue and conversational formats. It involves a main personality with the assistance of a “sidekick” of sorts. It’s conversational because there is more than one voice and opinion shared, but it’s also a monologue because the “star” of the podcast is really what listeners are tuning in for. Rainer on Leadership would be a typical example of this format.
  4. Interview– This format is growing in popularity with podcasters, but it’s a risky one. For starters, your audience is not as dependent on your content, but whom you have on the show. It can also be very difficult to get guests who can sustain and drive interest in the podcast. Unless you have a big contact list, this is a very difficult format for a start-up podcaster. It also makes the podcast more about whom you have on the show than what you actually contribute.
  5. Hybrid – There are a few shows that use these formats interchangeably. Investigative or story telling podcasts are the most obvious examples of this format. It can be a daunting task, but when done well hybrid podcasts can be wildly successful because they seamlessly flow from format to format and engage the listener in different ways.

Do you have a podcast? Which format of podcast do you produce? Which format do you listen to the most? Which format is your favorite? Which is your least favorite?

Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources as well as the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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